Review: G.I. Joe: Retaliation
PLOT: After Cobra Commander takes control of the United States government, the G.I. JOES find that they have enemies in high places. This brings down a deadly ambush upon our heroes leaving the Joes under fire. In order to fight back they must band together to fight a battle that places the entire earth in jeopardy.
What do you do when you have an epic scale action movie that didn’t necessarily thrill audiences like it was supposed to? Well, for starters, you could add Dwayne Johnson to the cast like Universal did for FAST FIVE. He helped reinvigorate that tired franchise thanks to his solid on-screen presence. Of course, this is exactly what Paramount did for their franchise hopeful, Hasbro based feature GI JOE: RETALIATION. This slick and stylish (and still a little dumb) summer blockbuster is an improvement over the first for several reasons. The first being a stronger cast. Many of the original actors are gone – besides Channing Tatum, Ray Park, Arnold Vosloo Jonathan Pryce and Byung-hun Lee, all of whom stuck around – and the chemistry between the actors is infinitely better this time around. Johnson and Tatum make for a match made in action flick heaven, especially since the chemistry between Tatum and Sienna Miller in the first film was non-existent.
The story here is – not terribly surprising – pretty standard for a movie such as this. Some bad guy wants to destroy the world and blow everything up to gain supreme power. It is always fun to see this kind of cliché mocked in other films like DESPICABLE ME or recently on an episode of “American Dad.” Of course any self-respecting G.I. JOE fan is well aware of Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey/Ladson Deyne) as well as Zartan (Vosloo). Then you have Storm Shadow (Lee) and the fantastic Ray Stevenson tearing things apart as Firefly, definitely giving our heroes a run for their money. Loyalties are tested and one character questions his own beliefs, and London, England is royally screwed thanks to a preposterously deadly weapon.
The good news is that this feels very much like what you would hope from a G.I. JOE live action feature. Director Jon M. Chu really brings this sequel to life with wall to wall action that is most definitely bigger, badder and better than the first. Starting with an early sequence where several members of JOE are ambushed in a surprisingly brutal attack. The violence is swift and doesn’t feel as clunky as it occasionally did the first time around. Most impressive is one thrilling set piece involving Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes (Park) which takes place on the side of a snow covered mountain. And lest I forget, Ray Stevenson kicking all sorts of ass in one hell of an exciting prison break.
Aside from Stevenson, it is great to see Mr. Bruce Willis again, in a flick which is more fun than his other recent franchise entry. There is a real sense of camaraderie with this cast that also includes the lovely Adrienne Palicki, the always terrific Walter Goggins and of course Jonathan Pryce as the President. Most of the film revolves around Johnson however and he was absolutely the perfect choice for G.I. JOE. He is a natural at playing a hero and clearly is built for it as well. He also has the ability to work well with others thanks to a believable bond he shares with Tatum as well as the rest of the cast. It is a noticeable improvement.
Before writing this I revisited RISE OF THE COBRA which admittedly is a guilty pleasure for me. The problems with the first film including zero chemistry between the film’s leads, questionable dialogue and not so special effects are obvious yet it worked for me on an almost camp level. Call it nostalgia, but watching the original film was the cinematic version of reverting back to childhood. With RETALIATION, Cho improves on many of the problems that occurred in COBRA making for a much better movie going experience. The script here by Rhett Reiss and Paul Wernick (ZOMBIELAND) adds a little more fun into the mix and while it may not win any awards, it is definitely more akin to the source material. Your inner child may have fun with this flick but unlike the first, RETALIATION is exciting enough to let your grown-up self in on the enjoyment and not feel as guilty about it.
GI JOE: RETALIATION is also visually a better film, even with the post conversion 3D which mostly adds to the film. Clearly they spent some time on the process and the end result is all the better for it. It does suffer from far too much CG, but it's freaking G.I. JOE so what else would you expect from a Hasbro based feature film. RETALIATION has the popcorn feel of RISE OF THE COBRA and even a few of the faults including a predictable plot as well as some silly dialogue - Shakespeare this is not. What it is however is exactly what the first movie should have been, an exciting and explosive action flick. It features a game cast including the dynamic duo of Tatum and Johnson as well as a kickass Stevenson. And most importantly, it features a nice balance of badassery and humor without taking itself too seriously or sacrificing the thrill of it all. This is what fans of G.I. JOE fans were hoping for. It’s getting to the point that we should just give Dwayne Johnson a shot at all the big summer blockbusters in need of repair.